Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus as others saw Him

Examining the views of Jesus’ contemporaries according to John’s Gospel Pt. 3

Sam Shamoun

We now come to the final part of our refutation.

Jesus – the Divine Son of God Incarnate

The most troubling aspect of all of this is that Zaatari doesn’t bother addressing or interacting with the statements that Jesus made all throughout John 6. In this very same chapter the Lord Jesus again made specific claims which clearly prove that he believed that he was God in the flesh, being the Divine Son of God whom the Father sent as Saviour and Sustainer.

For example, Jesus identifies himself as the I AM in the context of walking on the sea:

"When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Caper'na-um. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened, but he said to them, ‘I AM (ego eimi); do not be afraid.’ Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going." John 6:16-21

Jesus’ use of the I AM in this particular setting functions as a Divine self-disclosure, as a way for Christ to further reveal his Divine identity to his followers. Jesus’ walking on the sea demonstrated his control over nature, something which the OT says is a prerogative belonging to Yahweh:

"who alone stretched out the heavens, and trampled the waves of the sea;" Job 9:8

"Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded, and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men, and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to the sons of men!" Psalm 107:21-31

"But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you… You are my witnesses,’ says the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I AM he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.’" Isaiah 43:1-2, 10

Thus, Jesus was basically revealing to his disciples that he is the Divine I AM of the OT who has complete control and mastery over the seas and the winds. As the late liberal NT scholar Father Raymond E. Brown noted concerning Jesus’ I AM statements in John’s Gospel:

"The Johannine Gospel offers lucid examples of precreational christology. The opening verses (1:1-2) of the hymn that serves as a Prologue makes clear that not only through the Word (who is the Son; see 1:18) were all things created but also the Word existed in God’s presence before creation. If in Gen 1:1 ‘In the beginning’ means in the beginning of creation, in John 1:1 ‘In the beginning’ means before anything was created. That in John’s mind the preexistence of Jesus as God’s Son is not merely hymnic figurative language or poetic license is clear from 17:5 where the Johannine Jesus speaks literally and consciously of having a glorified existence with the Father before the world began (see also 16:28; 3:13; 5:19; 8:26,58).

"A particular facet of Johannine precreational Christology appears in the use of ‘I am’ by Jesus. The corresponding Geek ego eimi can be simply a phrase of common speech, equivalent to ‘It is’ or ‘I am the one.’ However, it also has a solemn and sacral use in the OT, the NT, Gnosticism, and pagan Greek religious writings. Of most importance for our quest is John’s absolute use of ‘I am’ with no predicate… Thus, 8:24: ‘Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins’; 8:28: ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM’; 8:58: ‘Before Abraham even came into existence, I AM’: 13:19: ‘When it does happen, you may believe that I AM.’" (Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology [Paulist Press; Mahwah, NJ 1994], pp. 136-137)


"I would include two other texts. The first is 6:20 where the disciples in the boat are frightened because they see someone coming to them on the water, and Jesus assures them, ‘I AM; do not be afraid.’ The second is 18:5: The soldiers and police who have come to the garden across the Kidron to arrest Jesus announce that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, and he answers, ‘I AM.’ Some would tell us that the first means simply, ‘It is I, i.e. someone whom you know and not a supernatural being or ghost.’ And they would tell us that the second means simply, ‘I am he, i.e. the one you are looking for.’ A better solution is to recognize a play on the expression ‘I AM’ as having a twofold meaning: While it has a simpler story-line import (as just exemplified), it also has a higher connotation. In the first example, the sacral comes from the context that involved Jesus’ walking on the water and a dangerous storm from which they are immediately brought to land: in the second example it comes from those who, hearing Jesus’ response, fall back to the ground. Both, then, would be instances of a theophany or divine appearance of one who, like the God of Israel, is master of storms and the sea and at the mention of whose name every knee must bend." (Ibid., p. 137, fn. 202; bold emphasis ours)

After mentioning the evidence that both the OT and rabbinic Jewish sources used the I AM as a Divine name, Brown then focuses on the book of Isaiah and connects that with John’s use of the same expression:

"There is even evidence that the use of ego eimi in the Greek of Deutero-Isaiah came to be understood not only as a statement of divine unicity and existence, but also as a divine name. The Hebrew of Isa 43:25 reads, ‘I, I am He who blots out your transgressions.’ The Greek translates the first part of this statement by using ego eimi twice. This can mean, ‘I am He, I am He who blots out your transgressions’: but it can also be interpreted, ‘I am ‘I AM’ who blots out your transgressions,’ a translation that makes ego eimi a name. Isa 51:12 is similar. The Hebrew of Isa 52:6 states, ‘My people shall know my name; in that day (they shall know) that I am He who speaks’; but the Greek can be read, ‘that ego eimi is the one who speaks,’ so that ‘I AM’ becomes the divine name to be known in the day of the Lord.

"Against this background the absolute use of ‘I AM’ by the Johannine Jesus becomes quite intelligible; he was speaking in the same manner in which Yahweh speaks in Deutero-Isaiah. For instance, in John 8:28 Jesus promises that when the Son of Man is lifted up (in return to the Father), ‘then you will know ego eimi’; in Isaiah 43:10 Yahweh has chosen Israel, ‘that you may know and believe me and understand ego eimi.’ The absolute Johannine use of ‘I AM’ has the effect of portraying Jesus as divine with (pre)existence as his identity, even as the Greek OT understood the God of Israel.

John did not invent this usage, for there are examples that verge on the absolute use of ego eimi in the Synoptics even though one can argue that a predicate is assumed. For instance, in Matt 14:27 (Mark 6:50): As Jesus comes walking across the water, he says to the disciples in the boat, ‘Ego eimi; do not be afraid.’ This is the same use we saw in John 6:20 (footnote 202). That in this scene Matthew intends more than a simple ‘It is I’ is suggested by the profession of faith elicited by the disciples (Matt 14:33), ‘Truly you are God’s Son!’ Or again, when speaking of the signs of the last days Jesus warns, ‘Many will come in my name, saying ego eimi’ (Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8). The context does not clearly suggest a predicate (even though Matt’s 24:5: ‘I am the Messiah’); and the juxtaposition of ego eimi and ‘my name’ brings us close to Johannine usage. Thus, John’s absolute use of ‘I AM,’ rather than a creation from nothing, maybe an elaboration of an early tradition that has left some traces in the Synoptic Gospels as well." (Ibid., pp. 138-140; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Jesus also went on to say that he is the Living Bread whom God sent down from heaven to save the world and to give eternal life to all who believe in him:

"Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.’ The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, "I have come down from heaven"?’" John 6:35-42

The reaction of Jesus’ contemporaries shows that Christ’s language meant that he truly believed that he was actually there in heaven with the Father even before he came down to the earth. He repeats this point of coming down from heaven all throughout this chapter:

"So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’" John 6:53-54

"But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’" John 6:61-63

By stating that all who come to him will never hunger or thirst Jesus obviously believed that he has the power to provide for and sustain all of his followers, a power which only God has. In fact, by further claiming that he will raise the dead on the last day Jesus was once again identifying himself as God Almighty since the Hebrew Scriptures expressly teach that it is Yahweh who gives and sustains life, as well as raises the dead:

"The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up." 1 Samuel 2:6

"Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home. But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. [Selah]" Psalm 49:14-15

"On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’" Isaiah 25:6-9

The Quran itself agrees with the true Word of God that God, or Allah, raises the dead and gives life:

Look, therefore, at the prints of Allah's mercy (in creation): how He quickeneth the earth after her death. Lo! He verily is the Quickener of the Dead, and He is Able to do all things. S. 30:50 Pickthall

He is the Living (One): There is no god but He: Call upon Him, giving Him sincere devotion. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds! … It is He Who gives Life and Death; and when He decides upon an affair, He says to it, "Be", and it is. S. 40:65, 68 Y. Ali

The Islamic religion further teaches that certain names or characteristics cannot be ascribed in their definite forms to anyone besides Allah:

5. Maintaining the unity of Allaah’s names also means that Allaah’s names in the definite form cannot be given to His creation unless preceded by the prefix ‘Abd meaning "slave of" or "servant of". Many of the Divine names in their indefinite form like Ra’oof and Raheem are allowable names for men because Allaah has used some of them in their indefinite forms to refer to the Prophet …

"A messenger has come to you from among yourselves to whom anything which burdens you is grievous. He is full of concern for you and is full of pity (Ra’oof) and full of mercy (Raheem)."

But ar-Ra’oof (the One Most Full of Pity) and ar-Raheem (the Most Merciful) can only be used to refer to men if they are preceded by ‘Abd as in ‘Abdur-Ra’oof or ‘Abdur-Raheem, since the definite form they represent a level of perfection which only belongs to God. Similarly, names like ‘Abdur-Rasool (slave of the messenger), ‘Abdun-Nabee (slave of the Prophet), ‘Abdul-Husayn (slave of Husayn), etc., where people name themselves slaves to other than Allaah are also forbidden. Based on this principle, the Prophet forbade Muslims from referring to those put under their charge as ‘Abdee (my slave) or Amatee (my slave girl). (Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism) [Islamic Book Service, New Delhi, India, Reprint Edition: 2004], 1. Chapter on the Categories of Tawheed, pp. 14-15; underline emphasis ours)

Thus, names such as THE First and THE Last, THE Truth, THE Resurrection, THE Life, or THE Living One cannot be attributed to any creature since these are characteristics which properly belong only to the true God:

Allah there is no god but He, the Living, the Everlasting. Slumber seizes Him not, neither sleep; to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. Who is there that shall intercede with Him save by His leave? He knows what lies before them and what is after them, and they comprehend not anything of His knowledge save such as He wills. His Throne comprises the heavens and earth; the preserving of them oppresses Him not; He is the All-high, the All-glorious. S. 2:255

Allah, there is no god but He, the Living, the Everlasting. S. 3:2; cf. 20:111

That is because Allah, He is the Truth, and it is He Who gives life to the dead, and it is He Who is Able to do all things. S. 22:6

He is the Living One; there is no god but He. So call upon Him, making your religion His sincerely. Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being.

He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; He has knowledge of everything. S. 57:3

And yet Jesus applied these very attributes and names to himself!

"Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am THE Resurrection and THE Life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.’" John 11:23-27

"Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Way, and THE Truth, and THE Life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.’" John 14:6

"When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am THE First and THE Last, and THE Living One; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Revelation 1:17-18

Now in light of all of this doesn’t this prove that, by ascribing these very Divine titles and names to his own Person, Jesus was making himself out to be God? Doesn’t this conclusively show that Jesus believed he was God when he claimed to be the Son of God who could do whatever God does?

This now leads us to our final section.


The disbelievers were right – Jesus did claim to be God!

With the foregoing in view, we can now more fully appreciate why the Jews sought to have Jesus killed for claiming to be the Son of God:

"The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God.’" John 19:7

They could see that Jesus used this title to express his absolute Deity, that he was making himself God and equal with God, just as the following passage shows:

"One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.’ And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. Now that day was the sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who was cured, ‘It is the sabbath, it is not lawful for you to carry your pallet.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who healed me said to me, "Take up your pallet, and walk."’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, "Take up your pallet, and walk"?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working still, and I am working.’ This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal with God." John 5:5-18

By saying that he had the same right to work on the Sabbath day as the Father did Jesus was essentially claiming equality with God, just as the Jews correctly understood.

And in response to the Jews’ reaction, Jesus went on to reinforce that he was making himself God and coequal with the Father in essence and honor:

"Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.’" John 5:19-23

In light of the above, can Zaatari produce a statement from either the Holy Bible or the Quran where a righteous god-fearing creature ever said that s/he could only do what God does, and can do whatever God does in the same manner that God does it? Can he provide a reference where one of God’s servants such as Gabriel or Moses stated that s/he could give life as God gives it or demand that people honor him/her in exactly the same manner that they honor God? If not (and he cannot) then what does this say about Jesus’ self-consciousness, his self-awareness? Is this the language of a person who thinks that he is merely a prophet, an apostle, or a righteous slave of God?

Jesus also reiterated the point of his being the One who will resurrect the dead by the power of his voice since he has life within himself (i.e., he is self-existent and the Source of Life), just as the Father has:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice [i.e. Jesus’ voice] and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment." John 5:25-29

As we saw earlier, this is a function which both the Hebrew Bible and the Quran agree belongs to God alone. Again, can Zaatari quote any of the true servants of God where they expressly said that they would raise the dead from their graves by the power of their word or voice?

Nor is this the only occasion where the Jews understood that Jesus was making himself out to be God:

"‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’ The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of these do you stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we stone you but for blasphemy; because you, being a man, make yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, "I said, you are gods"? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and scripture cannot be broken), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said, "I am the Son of God"? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.’ Again they tried to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands." John 10:27-39

Here, once again, Jesus says that he gives eternal life and has the power to preserve his followers forever since he is the Son who is one with the Father! He even uses the very same language that the OT uses in contexts that affirm that Yahweh alone is God and that other gods do not exist:

"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand." Deuteronomy 32:39

"‘You are my witnesses,’ says the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses,’ says the LORD. ‘I am God, and also henceforth I am He; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?’" Isaiah 43:10-13

Is it any wonder, then, that the Jews thought that Jesus was claiming to be God when he said he was the Son of God? And doesn’t all of this evidence from the Gospel of John conclusively prove that Jesus and his earliest followers such as the Baptist did teach and believe that Christ was God by proclaiming that he is the preexistent Son of God that came down from heaven who performs the very deeds that only God can? To those with eyes to see and ears to hear the answer is obvious.

We therefore pray that the risen Lord and immortal Savior, Jesus Christ, grant Sami Zaatari eyes with which to see and ears with which to hear in order to accept the true Gospel and embrace Christ as his very Lord God so as to receive eternal life and be saved from the wrath to come. Amen.

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